I was a first year associate at a large Midwest law firm when I took and passed my second Bar Exam, which permitted me to practice law in two states. It was much more difficult for me to set aside time to study the second time than the first, especially because the firm did not know that I was taking the exam.  No matter how hard I worked, I worried that I was not studying enough.  After realizing that worrying was getting me nowhere, I took some time to realistically assess my situation. I concluded that I was doing just fine. Undoubtedly, it is extremely difficult to pursue a new project or life goal when you have other, more pressing obligations like putting food on the table and keeping a roof over your head. This article provides four tips for pursuing your passion project while being a working professional.

(1) Meet yourself where you are. 

It is so easy to come up with a list of all the things you don’t have to make your dream come true: you don’t have enough money; you’re a single parent working a full-time job; you went to school for one thing but now you want to pursue another.

Rather than make a laundry list of your have-nots, consider just how prepared you are to pursue your dream. Instead of thinking you don’t have enough money to quit your job and write the next Great American Novel (whatever that is), just write. Dedicate an hour everyday as soon as you wake up to writing. Start a blog for low to no-money to build your audience so that when you have a product, you have an audience to whom you can sell it.

If you are a single parent, realize just how great you are at multi-tasking, prioritizing, and budgeting. Those qualities are just as important for building a business or pursuing a passion as they are to rearing children. Use them.

So you have spent the last 10 years as a lawyer, and now you want to get a Ph.D in Sociology? Do it. The fear in seemingly starting over can be quite stifling, it you let it. But, if you realize, as Oprah points out, that you are pursuing your divine purpose, then pursuing another degree will not appear so daunting. Another way to put your experience into perspective is to think: Well, I’m 40 years old now. By the time I finish my next degree, I will be 42 or 43 years old (for a Master’s degree) or 45 to 47 years old. You still have 15 to 20 years to do exactly what you have chosen to do as a career. And longer if you so choose. Realize that you are working towards a lifetime of happiness, so a few years to reposition yourself to achieve your dream won’t look so bad.

Meeting yourself where you are does not mean that you allow yourself to always be under-prepared. It just means that instead of never getting started on your goal because you feel ill-equipped, you dive in and acquire the tools over time.

(2) Use Your Resources.

When I was studying for my second Bar Exam, I had been practicing law for about 5 months, and had done a good deal of legal writing in that time. Coupling that on-the-job experience with my past research and writing experience, I knew that writing the essays would not be very difficult for me.  I was also confident in my writing and analytical ability generally, so I knew that I had a good chance of doing well on the essay portion.  My resources were my on-the-job experience, the fact that I had already successfully taken a Bar Exam, and my analytical ability.

In addition to using my experience as a resource, I also devised ways to get crafty with my studying. I focused on certain subjects that were new to me, or more difficult.  For these subjects, I dedicated my time on the weekends to going to the local public library to study.  I bought a new notebook and whipped out my highlighters.  I was taking it old school.  I hand-wrote everything – not just because I had to handwrite my exam, but because I learn better and retain more information by handwriting.

I called friends and asked for their outlines and materials from the Illinois Bar Exam.  One friend let me borrow her BarBri books that she’d kept. Another friend sent me typed outlines for all of the Illinois bar subjects.  I had another couple of friends that I called for encouragement, advice, and to talk through subject matter with which I needed help.  I relied on my community.

When you start a new project and pursue a new goal, think about what you already bring to the table and then, move forward towards the goal.

(3) Be ruthless with your priorities.

If it is important to you, make time for it. It does not matter how small your priority seems to others; if it is important to you, protect it. 

For instance, writing is important to me, so I set aside one day per week to writing. I set my weekly writing goals and on Sunday I work on those goals.

My mental, physical, and financial health are also top priorities for me. I meet with a therapist once per week and with a personal trainer twice per week. I am not perfect, and I definitely am not rich, but I have chosen to use a portion of my income to pay experts to assist me with fulfilling my priorities. I made my mental and physical health priorities and chose to forego spending time and money on other things. For instance, my computer has been running slowly. It is five years old and definitely time for a new one. Rather than go out today and buy the MacBook that I want, I will save up for it and purchase a new computer later in the year. Style is definitely a priority for me (hence, the blog), but I choose not to blow the bank on the $500 oxfords or the $800 blazer that I want. Instead, I’ll watch for sales and go to my favorite thrift and vintage shops to achieve my style goals.

(4) Be confident in your ability. 

When test day arrived, my confidence and faith kicked in.  I walked into the test unafraid of the consequences.  I knew that whatever happened, my world would not end.  I would either celebrate or shake my head when I received my results.  Regardless of the situation, I decided to move forward with a plan. I decided not to fear failure. 

This past November, I took the GRE for my graduate school applications. Studying for the GRE was much harder because I felt as though more was riding on a great score. After weeks of anxiety, struggling to find 20 hours per week to study, then 15, and 10, I nearly gave up on graduate school applications this year. I spoke to loved ones, and concerned about how much I was worrying, they suggested that perhaps I put off applying for a year to allow myself more time to dedicate to applications. I had just started a very difficult and important job within the past month, I had the blog, a relationship, family, committee work, and a couple of speaking engagements. I was busy and brimming with stress. After spending a half day seriously considering whether to put off my applications, I resolved to move ahead. My vision for my future involves a Ph.D in Sociology. I had waited long enough to apply and attend; I am in my sixth year of practicing law. I determined to use the above practices, just like I did while studying for my second Bar Exam. I took the GRE, but much more importantly for me, I submitted my applications this year. I’m hoping for good news, but until then, all I can be is confident in my ability and my applications. Once I submitted my applications, I knew that I had done all that I could do and that I did not allow my busy lifestyle to stop me from pursuing a very important goal. For that alone, I am supremely proud.

Don’t be so afraid to fail that you fail to move forward. 

-TJ